UAFS given $1M for internship pay

The campus of the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith is shown in this undated photo.


FORT SMITH -- University of Arkansas at Fort Smith students will have expanded access to paid internships thanks to a $1 million donation.

While all internships provide value to students, being paid for them is even better, said Chancellor Terisa Riley, who announced the Doug and Kathy Babb Premier Internship Endowment on Thursday during a University of Arkansas System board of trustees meeting on the UAFS campus.

Paid internships are open to more students, because many students from low-­income backgrounds can't afford to accept unpaid internships. More than half of UAFS' students are eligible for Pell Grants, which are for low-income students.

Doug and Kathy Babb committed $1 million for paid internships and apprenticeships for UAFS students to match employer contributions so students can benefit from hands-on practice and real-world experience as they prepare for careers, according to UAFS.

This isn't the couple's first notable gift to UAFS, as they also endowed the Babb Center for Career Services, which helps students with not only typical career preparation, but also crucial "soft skills" employers demand.

The internship fund will have two components, Riley said. Signature internships will support students who receive internships with strategic partners and key employers in the River Valley region, while signature micro-internships will support students who participate in project-based, short-term internships at no cost to hiring partners.

"By 2028, we anticipate awarding five to six of the premier internships, and around 20 micro-internships, each year," said Rachel Rodemann Putman, UAFS director of communications. The Babb gift is a five-year pledge, beginning this year, "so we hope to begin rolling out internships in fall 2024."

Doug Babb saw himself in many UAFS students working their way through college, especially first-generation students, when he taught a leadership class in the UAFS College of Business and Industry, he noted in a news release from UAFS.

"They were putting themselves through school and [had to] balance work, family, education," he said.

It's imperative for first-generation college students to complete their education, not only for themselves, but also because of the example it sets for their families, Riley said. She spoke from personal experience, as her three sisters followed her to college degrees, as did her four children.

This internship program will also deepen already strong ties between UAFS and business and industry, Riley said. "We know our region, and we're meeting those needs here."

The program "will create positive working relationships with employers in our area who can use skilled students from UAFS, creating a pipeline of new talent," Susan Krafft -- executive director of the Babb Center for Career Services -- said in the university's announcement. "Students get real-world experience in their field of study, which is a recurring theme in our strategic plan and our mission."

Doug Babb, a member of the El Pollo Loco board of directors, previously served as CEO of Cooper Clinic P.A., a large multi-specialty, physician-owned clinic, and as managing director for Babb Strategic Services, a consulting and strategic planning services company he formed in 2006, according to El Pollo Loco.

He also served as executive vice president, chief administrative and legal officer, and secretary of Beverly Enterprises Inc., a leading provider of health care services to the elderly in the United States, and in various senior executive roles at Burlington Northern Inc., a diversified transportation company, and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp.